I have been prompted to think of the photographs of Thomas Joshua Cooper, even though I am unable to get up to London to see his exhibition , “True” at the Haunch of Venison (running until 30th May).
He explores the fundamental forces of nature through solitary and arduous journeying to the remote edges of the world. This latest exhibition shows work from his series, ‘The World’s Edge’ – an ongoing work, initiated in 1990, that seeks to map the extremities of the land and islands that surround the Atlantic Ocean. The series includes images made in both the North and the South polar regions: at the northernmost land points of Norway and Greenland, and at the most northerly point of the Antarctic Peninsula, Prime Head, which has had fewer human visitors than the Moon.
Often in dangerous and inhospitable conditions, his photographs are made using a hundred-year old camera with specially-made photographic plates. I was astonished to learn that, after months of preparation and travelling and physical hardship, he makes only one photograph when he reaches his destination. He uses long exposures and low light, and his images have no sign of human or animal life – or anything at all that might ‘date’ them. The result for me is a profoundly disturbing sense of sublime timelessness, grounded in the specific physicality of the place.
Thomas Joshua Cooper: Furthest North – The Mid North Atlantic Ocean, Faro de Alegranza, Punta Delgada, Spain, 2002. Silver gelatin print.
Cooper is represented by the Ingleby Gallery, Edinburgh, and browsing their site I was interested to see a relationship drawn between his work and that of Richard Long and Hamish Fulton. Without quite realising it, I already had these three artists linked in my mind. The common thread, I believe, is the practice of travelling to the most harsh, remote and isolated areas of the world: a gradual paring away of cultural conditioning through the act of journeying, in a lifelong quest for absolute truth. It reminds me a little of the 4th and 5th century monks and devout pilgrims who made hazardous journeys to the very edges of the known landscape in search of the Eternal.
There is something heroic about these explorers.